The Temple on the River [Les Écœurants]
Jacques Hébert [trans. Gerald Taaffe]
Montreal: Harvest House, 1967
More novella than novel, I first read The Temple on the River a couple of hours before meeting the author. Picking it up twenty-eight years later later, I remembered little. A coming of age story, right?
Why The Temple on the River didn't stay with me must have to do with the speed at which it was read. A very entertaining story, it's infused with brilliant humour of the blackest sort.
Young François is summoned to keep his exiled grandfather company, but spends most of his time in the company of housekeeper Sévérine, an elderly spinster:
She was still in the Legion of Mary at sixty-five, the kind of old woman that hangs around the sacristy, on the prier's skirts, all year round, a frog boiled to death in holy water. At her age she kept suing that she was a virgin and pure, though she didn't take two baths a year.Under Sévérine's guidance François becomes an enthusiastic churchgoer, but this has everything to do with pretty Mireille, the beer-drinking labourer's daughter, who seems always to be sitting beneath a statue of St Anthony.
Hébert himself played a liberating role during those years. He was an old man of forty-three when the story of François Sigouin was first published, yet it demonstrates a true understanding of the younger generation.
That would be the generation before mine. I could be wrong.
Object: A 175-page paperback in Penguin orange, slightly wider than a typical mass market. It features ten full-page illustrations by Pierre Lusier. In 1985, I purchased my copy – then not inscribed – from a Montreal bookseller for 25 cents.
Access: The Temple on the River was published simultaneously in paper and cloth – then never again. Two paperback copies are currently list online – $9.99 and $19.95 – but I recommend the uncommon cloth. Both have dust jackets, both are inscribed, and at US$33.75 and US$39.00 aren't too far apart in terms of price.
Most universities have a copy, as does Bibliothèque et Archives nationals du Québec, but Library and Archives Canada fails. The only public library that serves is that of the City of Vancouver. Curiously, the French-language original is much more common in English-language institutions.